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Laurel 1920: As fine as any city anywhere

With modern schools and fine religious institutions
By 
Kathleen Gilluly
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Considering its start in a rail car, the First Baptist Church building was impressive. The church itself was established in 1908.

Considering its start in a rail car, the First Baptist Church building was impressive. The church itself was established in 1908.

The gymnasium still stands behind the Administration Building (known as the old middle school). In 1920, as depicted, the building hadn’t yet been transformed into a WWII fall-out shelter with the addition of the outer brick wall. The building is no longer in use.

The gymnasium still stands behind the Administration Building (known as the old middle school). In 1920, as depicted, the building hadn’t yet been transformed into a WWII fall-out shelter with the addition of the outer brick wall. The building is no longer in use.

The high school became known as the North School. The bell from the school sits in the Chamber of Commerce garden.

The high school became known as the North School. The bell from the school sits in the Chamber of Commerce garden.

Right - South School appeared to be the only wood-frame building left in the school system in 1920.

Right - South School appeared to be the only wood-frame building left in the school system in 1920.

Left - St. Anthony’s Catholic Church had humble beginnings.

Left - St. Anthony’s Catholic Church had humble beginnings.

Folks were welcomed to visit the Laurel Public Library. The Outlook noted that in 1920, many residents also had fine libraries in their homes. Outlook archives photos

Folks were welcomed to visit the Laurel Public Library. The Outlook noted that in 1920, many residents also had fine libraries in their homes. Outlook archives photos

 

… continued from last week

The boasting from past newspaper editors throughout the years I’ve compiled the “LookBack in History” column has always seemed over-the-top. According to them, Laurel always had made the best progress possible, growing magnificently in all ways, as demonstrated through modern buildings, automobiles, plumbing, good crops, and popular opinion, according to the yearly reports on the city’s advancements.

But, on behalf of 1920, many of the claims made regarding the superiority of Laurel’s infrastructure, fraternal and women’s clubs, number of businesses and civic projects, were accurate. A good many of the homes and business structures built then still stand, although more are long gone.

In addition to the railroad, which drove the local economy, there were over 100 businesses and shops listed in the directory of City’s Business Concerns and Professions, including several tailer [sic] and millinery shops, hotels, cafes, drug stores, contractors, dentists, shoe shops, hardware and groceries, dry goods, blacksmiths, filling stations and lumber yards. Settegren’s Furniture store also provided undertaking services. Folks living in Laurel had everything they needed at their disposal.

Laurel’s forefathers were rightly proud of their young school system. As reported in the Dec. 15, 1920 Outlook, “For a city of its size Laurel has the best public schools to be found in the state of Montana at the present day, and anyone at all acquainted with the west and Montana in particular will recognize this statement for being sweeping in scope. The entire commonwealth is noted nationally for its schools and to occupy the position that Laurel does is in itself no mean compliment to the wealth, resources and progressive spirit of the people.

“At the present time the district possesses four fine buildings, and on account of the rapidity with which the city is increasing in size and population, a portion of the Wold block has been rented and is devoted to school purposes as a temporary measure.” The article went on to boast of Laurel’s newest school building, so new it hadn’t yet been named, and of plans for further building. The school board members, which included the owner and publisher of the Outlook, Joseph Gehrett, were also proud of the rigorous curriculum and the addition of new classes.

“To the course of study there was recently added a business course, consisting of bookkeeping, stenography and typewriting, and including general instruction concerning business methods … The tendency of modern public instruction is toward the practical, instead of the academic, and in this respect the Laurel schools are keeping pace,” the Outlook reported.

In addition to fulfilling the educational needs of the young, Laurel had a number of religious institutions to meet its spiritual needs, as well.

As the Outlook reported, “For a well balanced city and community life an adequate supply of churches is needed. In Laurel there are six such organizations that fully care for the religious demands of the people. Each has a resident pastor and a commodious edifice, with a number of auxiliary societies for the development of special work of the different departments. The healthy condition of Laurel churches is a matter of pride with the people of the city.”

The churches included the First Congregation church, the oldest church in Laurel, having been established many years earlier by Rev. Joseph Pope. “A large frame church was built shortly after the society was formed which has continued to serve the people of that denomination up to the present time,” reads the report.

The Baptist church was organized in the fall of 1908. For a time it was operated by a traveling evangelist in a railroad car especially fitted to be a church.

During 1909 the Methodist Episcopal church was organized by Rev. W. H. Calvert who at that time was pastor of the Park City church.

St. Anthony’s Catholic church was also organized in 1908 and Rev. Father Trumper was the first pastor. “The original frame structure is still in use and tentative plans are entertained for the erection of a new church building in the future.” The paper also noted that St. Anthony’s planned a parochial school and a hospital.

South Laurel was home to two churches: The German Congregational and the German Lutheran. The Outlook reported, “Both have beautiful church homes and the pastors are found constantly engaged in caring for the spiritual needs of their congregations.”

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